Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Beautiful West Marin - Part II

Below is the January 2019 issue of "Rick's Tips," Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel's free newsletter of fun things to do in San Francisco, the Bay Area, and Northern California.  If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter, please e-mail me at

First, I want to wish everyone a happy 2019. I hope the year brings you much happiness and many good trips.

Beautiful West Marin, Part II

In the October 2018 issue of "Rick's Tips," we traveled from Muir Beach to Bolinas in West Marin County. In this issue, we'll continue our tour by focusing on the area around Point Reyes National Seashore.

Point Reyes National Seashore

Created in 1962, Point Reyes National Seashore protects magnificent coastline, historic structures, and abundant wildlife. There is so much to see and do at this park that only the surface will be touched in this narrative.

From Bolinas - where we left off in October - head north on CA Route 1. There are a number of entrances to the park. Where you enter will depend on your interests. If you turn left on Bear Valley Road, you will reach the Bear Valley Visitor Center. Stop at the Center to learn about activities in the park as well as the area's human and natural history. Near the Visitor Center are the Earthquake Trail and Kule Loklo. The Earthquake Trail is a .7 mile walk along the San Andreas fault. Learn about the legend of the cow that was grazing on the fault line when the 1906 earthquake struck. At Kule Loklo, a replica of a Miwok Village, find out about the region's first inhabitants.

Further out Bear Valley Road is the road to Limantour Beach. This area has abundant wildlife in the wetlands and along the beaches. There are many easy hiking trails in this part of the Seashore.

Bear Valley Road eventually meets Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, which is also accessible directly from CA 1 (as well as US 101). Sir Francis Drake travels through dairy farms and terrain that will make you think you are in Scotland. (Others did and named one of the local villages Inverness.) Two of my favorite beaches are along the north side of the road - North Beach and South Beach. These are not beaches where you go to soak in the sun. Rather, here you walk along the beach and experience Mother Nature's rough edge. If you like rugged coast, stop at one of these beaches to enjoy the wind and pounding surf.

On the south side of Sir Francis Drake is Drakes Beach. Historians think this is where Sir Francis Drake became the first European to step foot in Northern California when he beached his ship, the Golden Hinde, for repairs in 1579. This protected beach can be a great spot for a picnic. Adjacent to the parking lot is a bookstore, which is open on weekends and some federal holidays, with some packaged food and drinks. Sometimes Tule Elk graze near the road to the beach.

Sir Francis Drake Boulevard ends at Pt. Reyes, where you may walk down 300 steps to the Pt. Reyes Lighthouse. This is a great spot to look for whales from December to early April. The lighthouse is normally open Friday - Monday from 10:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Currently, renovation of the lighthouse is underway. Until work is completed later this year. the lighthouse will be closed. Check out the park's website for the latest information.

Near the end of Sir Francis Drake is Chimney Rock. This is another great place for whale watching. In the spring, wildflowers abound. On a sunny day, this is one of the perfect meetings of land and sea. You may also see elephant seals ashore in the cove below from December to March. Look for the signs from the parking lot to the Elephant Seal Overlook.

One other spot to check out in the Seashore is Tomales Point. Hike among the Tule Elk to the spot where Tomales Bay meets the Pacific Ocean.

Much more information about Point Reyes National Seashore is available on its website:

Inverness, Olema, and Point Reyes Station

These three towns are near the Seashore and provide many amenities to help you enjoy your visit. All are home to lovely bed and breakfasts and inns.

Point Reyes Station is the largest of the three towns. A stroll along the main street (CA 1) will take you to jewelry shops, a book store, clothing stores, and art galleries. Visit Cafe Reyes for pizza and oysters and the Side Street Kitchen for brunch and lunch. For those with a sweet tooth, I highly recommend Bovine Bakery.

Currently, my favorite place for dinner is Saltwater Oyster Depot in Inverness. The restaurant offers a la carte dinner on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and a prix fixe menu on Monday and Thursday. The restaurant is open for lunch on Saturday and Sunday and also serves a bar menu from 3:00 to 5:00 on those days. Additional restaurants are located in all three towns as well as in Marshall, which is 15 minutes north of Point Reyes Station.


One last note for those of you who love oysters. Oysters are farmed in Tomales Bay and, thus, are featured on most local menus. If you want to shuck your own oysters, visit Hog Island Oyster Company in Marshall. Bring picnic fixings to supplement your raw oysters. If you prefer to have someone else do the work, you can visit Hog Island's The Boat Oyster Bar, which serves raw and barbecued oysters, cheese, charcuterie, wine, beer, and other seasonal fare. Reservations are a must at Hog Island. Picnicking is available every day, while The Boat Oyster Bar is open Friday through Monday.

My favorite place to eat oysters is The Marshall Store. Here you can eat great raw, barbecued, and Rockefellered oysters as well as pork and beef barbecue, fish tacos, and other yummy food. Buy your beer, wine, or soft drinks in the Store, find a spot ay one of the bayside tables, and enjoy the beautiful setting while you wait for your order to arrive. If you visit on a Thursday, ask if they still offer discounted raw oysters.

I hope you've enjoyed your journey through West Marin. We've yet to reach the towns of Tomales and Dillon Beach, but I'll leave these for you to explore on your own. Better yet, let Blue Heron take you to West Marin. We feature two tours of this region: Oceanside Vistas and Point Reyes Ramblings. For more information on West Marin County, visit the West Marin Chamber of Commerce website. Here you'll find information on lodging, dining, shopping, and activities in the region.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Beautiful West Marin County - Part I

Below is the October edition of "Rick's Tips," Blue Heron's free newsletter of fun things to do in San Francisco and the Bay Area.  If you would like to subscribe, email me at
Beautiful West Marin County - Part I
One of my favorite parts of the Bay Area is West Marin County. From San Francisco, visitors quickly get to wide open spaces and can see rugged coastline, explore quaint towns, drive through rolling hills of dairy farms, and eat some pretty good food. When Blue Heron opened in 2003, I hoped to share my love of this area with many visitors from out of town by offering two West Marin tours on the Blue Heron website. Unfortunately, not many visitors pick these tours. I hope it's because they prefer to explore West Marin on their own rather than to not take the time to visit this less-traveled region. In an effort to encourage more guests to visit this beautiful part of the Bay Area, I am republishing, with updates, two "Rick's Tips" that originally covered this area in 2005. Below is Part I. Part II will be in the January 2019 issue of "Rick's Tips." 

The area called West Marin stretches along the Pacific Ocean from Muir Beach in the south to Dillon Beach in the north. It is a world apart from the suburban life found in the rest of Marin County. Much of the land is protected. The Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Point Reyes National Seashore, Mt. Tamalpais State Park, and Tomales Bay State Park are part of West Marin. Much land is watershed and still more is reserved for agricultural uses. Dairy farming has a rich history in West Marin. Today this area is home to organic dairies and artisan cheese-makers. 

Each of the small communities that straddle California Route 1 - the main north/south artery through the area - has a unique character. We'll take a tour of West Marin in this issue from Muir Beach to Bolinas. In January, we'll explore the area from Point Reyes National Seashore to Dillon Beach.  

Muir Beach 

If you visit Muir Woods, turn right when you leave the parking lot. You will follow Redwood Creek on its journey to the ocean. When you arrive at Route 1, you will be in the small community of Muir Beach. In good years, which have been rare recently, our winter rains start in late October or early November. By December or early January, Redwood Creek gains enough force to break through the sandbar at Muir Beach. Then steelhead trout and salmon are able to swim up the creek and spawn in Muir Woods. Unfortunately, drought and other factors have greatly reduced the number of spawning fish. 

Muir Beach is home to a lovely bed and breakfast, The Pelican Inn. The inn has nine charming guest rooms as well as a restaurant that features country English fare. The bar has a great selection of ale, lager, and stout on tap. One of my favorite day hikes is to walk from Tennessee Valley in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area along the Coastal Trail to Muir Beach. I then stop for lunch or a brew (just one) at The Pelican Inn and head back. The round-trip walk is about nine miles. There's a fair amount of up and down, but the spectacular coastal views make it worth the effort. 

Just north of town is the Muir Beach Overlook, an old base-end station where soldiers searched for enemy ships during World War II. Today this beautiful bluff affords views of the rugged California coast from Point Reyes to the Golden Gate. Standing here, it is hard to imagine that one is in the midst of a metropolitan area of over seven million people. If you are lucky, you might see whales off shore.  

Stinson Beach 

The next town north on Route 1 is Stinson Beach. This is where San Franciscans go when the sun is shining and we just want to lie on the beach. (Yes, there are a few days in the Bay Area when the temperature hits 90, and you can walk on the beach in a bathing suit rather than a down jacket.) Stinson has that funky beach feel that is scarce in Northern California. No gourmet restaurants with extensive wine lists here, but there are three good places to grab a casual lunch. Parkside Cafe, Sand Dollar Restaurant, and Stinson Beach Breakers Cafe all have sandwiches, salads, and other dishes. You may also want to stroll through the shops that line the two blocks of Route 1 in town. 

Stinson Beach is all about escaping San Francisco's fog for a sunny day at the beach. Be warned: if one of these rare 90 degree days falls on a weekend, traffic will be heavy and parking scarce in town. 


Bolinas has a reputation for being quirky and a refuge for former hippies and other free thinkers. For many years the highway department tried to place signs on Route 1 to indicate the turn-off to Bolinas. Within days the signs would disappear. Today, the main road into Bolinas is unmarked. It is the first left turn off Route 1 after you pass Bolinas Lagoon if you are driving from Stinson Beach. When you arrive, you may no longer find many hippies, but you will find a unique village to wander around for a short while. 

South of the Bolinas turn-off on Route 1 (3.5 miles north of Stinson Beach) is the Audubon Canyon Ranch's Martin Griffin Preserve. During the spectacular heron and egret nesting season, you can walk up on a hillside and use telescopes to view chicks in their nests. Hours vary depending on the season, so check the Preserve's website before visiting.  

Agate Beach County Park, just west of Bolinas, is a nice place to enjoy the beach on a warm, sunny day. At low tide, you can walk to the park along the shore from the town of Bolinas. Check a tide table before taking this pleasant, hour-long walk to make sure you can complete your journey before the tide comes in.  

Coast Cafe in Bolinas is a friendly spot for breakfast or lunch. A new hotel and restaurant, Eleven, recently opened for dinner. While I have not yet dined there, early reviews of the restaurant look promising. That's it for our journey in West Marin for this issue. For more information on visiting West Marin, visit the Chamber of Commerce's website. We'll head to Point Reyes in January.